Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mike's Story Part 28 - Christmas

By Jenna Orkin  

December 24
   Mike came in from the stairwell where he'd been having his morning coffee and cigarette.
   "Actually, today I think I'm going to start an outline. For the novel. And it occurs to me that your family....."
   "Knows agents?" I thought.  I knew one who'd achieved prominence by sticking with mainstream topics and literary fiction.  My brother and sister-in-law knew others; my mother's connections in that field were all dead, retired or fallen away.
   "...could be interesting material." 
   We were going to see them the next day for Christmas.  Perhaps, knowing that they weren't interested in Peak Oil and all that it entails, Mike was trying to psych himself into finding the gathering useful.
   "As an example of the clueless?"
   The novel loomed as yet another mammoth undertaking.
   “But there’s a need for it,” he mused.
   “Forget that for a moment,” I replied.  “What do you need to write?”
   What he needed, I felt, was a catharsis.
   "Then say that. And fill in the details, the specifics."
   "Whoa... I have to think about that." 
   If speculation were not the idle pastime it's known to be, I'd say that the soul-searching the novel would have required could have saved him.  But I don't want to start a conversation thread about writers who've killed themselves as soon as the work was completed.  Mike wasn't prepared to write that kind of novel anyway; he was thinking of a less personal Post-peak story.  No wonder the project never got off the ground.

   He also wanted to do volunteer work but not with AA.
   "What they do in AA is have you meet with someone worse off than you and help them out of it. It's a time-honored means of helping oneself.  But I don't want to help turn someone into an acceptable member of a herd of lemmings about to go off the cliff because of Peak Oil."
December 25, Christmas.
   No abatement in the morning angst.
   "Now what do I do?" he said, only half rhetorically. 
   He was like a method actor asking his director, "What's my motivation? What do I do with my hands?"
   By way of response, he resorted to the method actor's fallback position:  He lit a cigarette.
   The Arts section of the Times featured an obituary of Mary Meagher, a literary agent who had died at the age of 47 of a heart attack induced by drugs and alcohol. A vivacious Holly Golightly-type, she harbored a secret sadness which her brother, the only person with whom she remained in contact throughout her life, said stemmed from "a legitimate cause" in her childhood. 
   I did not mention the article to Mike who, to illustrate his torment, was putting his hands around his neck in mock strangulation.  The gesture evoked his rehearsed suicide in Venezuela, by means of his necktie.
   I reminded him of my former shrink's admonition: "You are suffering instead of doing the work you are supposed to do," by which she meant the work of looking inward.
   In Mike's case, I continued, he was suffering by way of punishment for not making money, (a cause for much of his angst) and as a goad of the time-honored sort favored by his father. What's a tormented genius to do when he's not busy doing his geniusery? The only thing left is the torment.
Also it was a way of staying focused on himself.
He took this in, along with his Tropicana and Thomas' whole wheat English muffin with apricot fruit spread, no added sugar, from the farmer's market. 
"I have two choices," he said. "Take a nap or have a panic attack."
The novel was too overwhelming to face. 
"There are smaller tasks," I said.  "You could write a Christmas - no, - a holiday message to readers that we could post on the blog."
After an e-Christmas card from a loyal supporter - (What has happened to her?  There's a whole new generation of Mike followers now...) - in which you clicked to create a cottage with a tree outside lit with candles, snow falling, dog wagging his tail, he resolved to write the message.
"I always feel better after a nap," he says. So that would come first.

Evening  We're back from dinner at my mother's where Mike scored a hit with his Ross Perot imitation. ("Now I'm just a short, floppy-eared Texan with a big nose but listen while I tell you something straight: When ya see a snake, ya kill it.")

   "I hope some day I can get up without thinking about [the employees he blamed for destroying FTW] or suicide."  
   "You will."
   "The morning started out badly but just now, out in the 'den' [the stairwell] I did some thinking: I'd like, today, to outline the novel, deal with different snapshots at different points in time.
   'But now I'm having a panic attack."  
   "The valium may have something to do with it."
   "I think it was the second cup of coffee. That was a mistake. Good, but a mistake. I only have eight valium left."
   "You're seeing [your doctor] Wednesday. It's enough if you keep up your current pattern; not enough if you decide to crank it up to the maximum you're allowed."
   "I'll have to take half an Ativan. Half."
   Ativan was scary, putting him to sleep all day.
   "It's the daunting task you've set yourself. Remember in Venezuela when you were all in a sweat because you 'had to' write your final article for FTW, the article to end all articles - and I told you it didn't have to encompass everything?"
   "'Evolution.' That was a good article."
   "Right. Just take it one step at a time."

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